The Rising Fire Within Us

mother anger

It wasn’t only in the dark, when the lights were out and my thoughts had a tendency to expand and disparage themselves. It wasn’t only when the baby needed nursing at 2:00 a.m. and the street lights shone brightly across the street over our neighbor’s silver maple. It wasn’t only when I had to repeat myself a dozen times before bedtime that nothing was an emergency as Lego blocks spilled down the stairway and kids were screaming they didn’t want to wear a diaper to bed and they absolutely would not brush their teeth.

By the time we had kids, I knew when it was rising, the burning anger that often begins with a deep breath and then rests dormant just under the rib cage where most things are protected from giving way. A desire to keep my composure for the sake of safety and connection.

What I didn’t know was what to do with my anger and how easily it would be triggered, what to do with my body after three deep breaths when the tension was still locked tightly in my upper shoulders and my voice was cutting with resentment.

As a child I was wrapped tightly with verses and church lessons, devotions and prayers, that at the time seemed to be spoken and shared with the intention of keeping me centered on submission. My anger was something that needed forgiving and healing, not nurtured or supported through.

The freedom of my early adulthood allowed me time to understand more the intentions our church leaders had, that I might find hope from destructive feelings and actions. There is safety in offering our rage to a God whom we know not only loves us unconditionally, but also desires our release from the control of harmful temperaments and consequences.

For years, prayerfully learning how to loosen the tight grip of my anger worked. I had bodily autonomy and space to process and pray, and slowly I was learning that my anger could be used as fuel for both investing in passions and growing in relationships. I had time to exercise out my anger with works of sweat and advocacy, and my anger found space to breathe that wasn’t laced with shame or fear.

But what I quickly learned after bringing home our first newborn was that although I had learned how to live comfortably within the illusion that I could braid my anger seamlessly throughout my days, I didn’t know what to do with the overwhelming rage when the babies still needed my body for comfort and all I felt was fury. I hadn’t yet learned what to do with my time when emails still required a response and toddlers were weeping. I hadn’t yet found the words to express limits when friends were ringing our doorbell to say hi and all I needed was silence, when responsibilities I didn’t want to let go of felt as though they were suffocating my days.

Before I knew it, the singular word “Help” had become my only prayer.

My husband gifted me a beautiful set of painted images the night before our wedding. The artwork quickly became a tool I would use in counseling as well as a way for me to personally sort through my own feelings. They were an avenue to share with Jake what I was experiencing without having to find the words—a way to find an image I could hold closely when I couldn’t find a prayer. 

And it was in this season of little children under foot and high demands, I noticed one image I hadn’t previously given much attention.

A bare woman standing upright, arms fallen to her side, her eyes somehow cast downward while still staring ahead with an experienced knowing. A woman with breasts that tell of her years and shoulders that both sink with exhaustion and tense with anticipation. Laid upon her belly, a luminous fire that begins in her lower abdomen, reaches up through her chest, rising skyward.

After noticing this image, this painting that expressed more of my internal dialogue than I could find language to name, did I still labor with frustration?

I did. In anger I once set my newborn onto the mattress and professed that I was finished with mothering. In anger I locked my toddler, multiple times, in her bedroom for both her safety and mine. In anger I learned the satisfaction that comes with slamming kitchen cabinets, bedroom closets, and car doors when no one was listening. And in anger, even after having found the language necessary to communicate how I was feeling and what I needed, I still could wind up words of annoyance and heartache, only to carelessly release them on those who loved and cared for me most.

But this woman, this starkly adorned painting of a woman, almost looked as though she herself was created in the image of God. A God who desires for the rising fire within her belly to breathe in oxygen for fuel, to scream in release of unanticipated loss, to move freely with grief and assurance, to feel confidence and burn brightly.

Over the last twelve years of parenting, I’ve come to recognize that the anger that encouraged me to set my infant on our bed and walk away from motherhood is the same anger that pulls me closer to my children when they are experiencing feelings of frustration, sadness, or discomfort. The anger that told me to close and lock the door between my toddler and me is the same anger that throws doors wide open, stepping away from the need to be the gatekeeper to God’s kingdom. The anger that can throw cutting words without intention is the same anger that is used to encourage others, to show up fully in word and song, advocating for safety, creativity, and inclusion for all.

I’m still angry quite often. Water spills, or one child throws an elbow into a sibling’s side, and another act of injustice that needs explaining and attending rests solely in my open palms. If there is one uncomfortable trait I see in my children that points clearly in my direction, it’s their quickness to anger with those who love them most.

We all feel the heat. We’re all slowly learning when to lean into it and when to use the canvas punching bag recently installed in our basement. Far too often we catch ourselves holding securely to that fire in our bellies, that anger which muddles our motivations and perspectives. But over time, over years of learning to walk away, over hours spent in trusting conversations, we’re slowly learning how to walk through the raging fire, how to harness the heat rising through our chests, and how to sustain the passion within us without allowing it to destroy us.

Jess Rozga-DeBoni has spent the last 12 years supporting women as a doula and mentor, which builds on her decade of experience as a social worker in the fields of addiction and after-school education. Currently she seeks out the incongruous, gets excited easily, plants more flowers than food, and home educates her three kids. She lives as a joyful neighbor in Manistee, MI with her husband where she visits the shore of Lake Michigan daily.

This week’s sponsor of Mothering Spirit is Brazos Press, publisher of Rewilding Motherhood by Shannon K. Evans. Mothers long to experience a rich inner life, but they rarely feel there is enough time, energy, or stillness to connect with God in a meaningful way. Rewilding Motherhood helps mothers see the challenges of motherhood as an opportunity for a vibrant feminine spirituality and a deeper knowledge of God and self.

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